St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Blast from the north

As if playing for the Stanley Cup weren't enough, the Lightning's Canadians can show off back home.

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published May 24, 2004

TAMPA - The way Brad Lukowich sees it, he's going home. Well, to his second home, anyway.

The Lightning defenseman grew up in Cranbrook, British Columbia, about a three-hour drive from Calgary. As far as he is concerned there is no other team he would rather face for the Stanley Cup than the Flames.

"It's in my back yard," he said. "My sister lives there. My brother lives there. Two guys from my wedding, my groomsmen. A ton of guys I went to school with live there. I used to spend my summers there with my cousins.

"I used to go there to have fun. It's basically my second home, so it's going to be an emotional time for me. It's going to be exciting. I'm pumped up."

The Lightning took Sunday off to decompress after Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Flyers in Game 7 of the East final to make the first Cup final in its 12-season history. Game 1 is Tuesday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

As if playing for a league championship isn't enough, there are enough mini-dramas in this series to keep reality TV buffs tuned in.

There are personal entanglements.

By now everyone knows how the Lightning signed Martin St. Louis in the summer of 2000 for next to nothing after he was jettisoned by the Flames, in part, for being too small. Lukowich sounds like he will have an entourage waiting at the Calgary airport. And forwards Cory Stillman and Chris Dingman played for the Flames.

Don't discount the thrill among the Lightning's Canadian players of playing for the Cup in their homeland.

And while it seems absurd given that Tampa Bay has only two players born in the United States - and Andre Roy was in Port Chester, N.Y., for about a minute before his parents moved to Quebec - an out of town reporter wondered if coach John Tortorella will play down "the United States vs. Canada part of the final."

Tortorella of Boston said he would not "lose any integrity of what these two teams have done to get here" by answering a question he described with an expletive.

Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier played up heading north of the border.

"Going back to Canada, it's always a big deal," he said. "I know everybody is saying they're going crazy up there. They want it. We want it. It's going to make things very exciting."

Calgary is ga-ga for its team. The Flames, in their first Cup final since winning in 1989, snapped a league-high streak of seven nonplayoff seasons and defeated division champs Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose in the first three rounds.

After Calgary finished off the Sharks in Game 6 of the West final, captain Jarome Iginla spent two hours chatting with fans at the Pengrowth Saddledome. Radio stations recorded song parodies honoring the team. The most popular is a remake of 50 Cent's In Da Club called In the Dome.

"They don't get enough credit for what a great hockey city this is," Iginla told Calgary reporters. "Easily one of the best in the NHL, if not the best. You look around the league when other teams went through tough times and were out of the playoffs. We were still getting 14-, 15,000 fans."

Lukowich said he remembered going to his first NHL game at the old Stampede Corral when he was 6 years old and getting kicked out of the dressing room he sneaked into during the morning skate.

St. Louis said for the umpteenth time he holds no hard feelings against the organization and that he is "really happy for the few guys who are still there. I'm happy they're having success they're having. I don't hold any grudges. They're good guys."

And good players. Iginla leads the playoffs with 10 goals and is tied for second with 17 points. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has a 1.90 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and is tied with Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin with a playoff-high four shutouts. "They work hard and they never stop moving their feet," Lightning center Brad Richards said. "That's a deadly combination; go, go, go."

Richards said talking about Tampa Bay's 6-2 victory over the Flames on Jan. 24 is "stupid" because Kiprusoff was hurt and "we scored some goals quickly. ... It's a whole new ballgame. Our level is not even near where we have to be Tuesday night."

"It's going to be long. It's going to be tough," Lukowich said. "But it's going to be great. We've got Marty, they've got Jarome. We've got Habby, they've got Kiprusoff. You can go through the whole team and match guys up. It's going to be a huge challenge for us."

And a little slice of home.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.